Manawatu Gorge trail run (30 January 2011)

Ever since moving to Palmy, the Manawatu Gorge walkway has been beckoning, literally in our backyards.  According to everyone we talked to and everything we read, the gorge promised to be one of the most beautiful places in the area, and Gerry and I have been forever threatening to make the outing to see what it is like.

It is a 10.1km point to point walk through the gorge, with the idea being that you leave a car at the finish, drive back to the start and complete the walk. But what to do when you only have one car?

Since we are officially entered for a couple of longer trail runs in a few months, Gerry decided that the gorge would make for a good training trail run out and back, just to get us into the swing of things again. And what an excellent idea! We packed some sammies, biltong, jelly sweets, warm clothing and water into our CamelBaks and drove the approximately 15km from our home to the start of the walk.

A strong wind was blowing, but as soon as we entered the forest, we were partially protected and could manage a slow, easy trot. What I anticipated to be a fairly flat”ish” course with probably a little uphill on the one side to get over the mountain and a little downhill on the other side, turned out to be a much more significant up and down scenario, and I was pretty soon brought back to reality when the first hill stopped me in my tracks. What was I thinking – that it would be a walk in the park? It appears so…

Our daily shuffle down a fairly flat road didn’t help much with these hills. And since I’m not yet fit enough to be called a “runner”, my shuffle also implies that I don’t have to lift my feet very far off the ground. All in all not quite the preparation required for an off-road, hilly course!

And so we decided to take it easy and walk the biggest part of the path, if that was to be our fate. No worries, we were keen to experience the whole route anyway. Every now and again a runner would approach from the front looking really mean and really fit. I envied them. But also realized that I have a long way to go before attempting hilly mountain trail runs.

After a while a very small downhill got me into a wee bit of a jog, just to be reduced to a walk again by the uphill on the other side. And so it went. We tried to run all the flat and downhill sections and walk the uphills. We also took all the detours to the scenic outlooks and were glad to discover a, by now much needed, loo at the wind farm lookout near the halfway mark.

I could feel my quads starting to burn during a fairly long downhill section, and realised instantly that this little outing was going to leave me sore for a couple of days. I also discovered that it is actually not very difficult to look like a meanie on the downhills! We were flying past people on the downhills and I was just hoping they wouldn’t catch us on the uphills again.

We made it to the car park on the other side and decided to have our shaved ham and mustard sandwiches and a bit of the rest before heading back. A little loop track from this car park is sign-posted with comments from local primary school kids, describing the different trees and bushes from their viewpoint, and in their own words. Very entertaining to read.

Throughout the track there’s signage providing factual info on the various trees and other plants. There were two sets of facts at two different places about the Nikau palm which give opposing stats? Quite confusing, as they were both official signs, and not something conjured up by one of the kids’ imaginations!

As we made our way back along the route, we applied the “run bits, walk bits, you’ll get there” advice we were once given by one of the helpers at the Cape Odyssey, and we managed to complete the 20.2kms at a very easy and comfortable pace, photo stops, rests and pitstops included, in under four hours. There’s certainly lots of room for improvement, but at least we now know what to expect.

It is the perfect training terrain for off-road/mountain races, not too far from home, and I’m already hoping to do this soon again.

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